City to work with homeless shelter providers if planned hotel purchase finalized

·4 min read
Windsor Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin says there's a need to provide shelter space for women and families in Windsor. (Jason Viau/CBC - image credit)
Windsor Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin says there's a need to provide shelter space for women and families in Windsor. (Jason Viau/CBC - image credit)

Windsor will be working with existing shelters when it comes to providing services at a hotel it's in the process of purchasing to house people experiencing homelessness, according to a city councillor.

Rino Bortolin says organizations such as the Salvation Army, Downtown Mission and The Welcome Centre Shelter for Women will not lose funding or be left in a lurch because of the city's plan to buy a facility of its own.

"We as a city are not really the most direct [or] hands-on. We will be working with our partners on the ground to provide these services," explained the Ward 3 councillor, who represents a large section of the downtown core.

"This is about everyone working together for a better system. By no means is the city leaving our partners and doing something rogue."

Few details of the plan, including the location of the facility, have been released right now. But Bortolin said he anticipates more information will be provided in the next week or two.

Andrew Teliszewsky, chief of staff for Mayor Drew Dilkens, told CBC News in an email Wednesday that city council had approved the deal during an in-camera meeting earlier this year and the legal steps to acquire the site are already underway.

The planned purchase follows the Review of Emergency Shelter Services in Windsor Essex.

A copy of the review on the city's website is dated July 14, 2020. Teliszewsky said it went to council in the fall of 2020.

Among its findings was the need for more shelter space dedicated to women with or without children, youth and young adults.

"The one thing that was a glaring need for specifically for families and specifically for women was increased services," said Bortolin. "So increased services means a bigger shelter."

City tapping into provincial funding

However, the recommendations section of the review also advises that the city deliver services through third-parties — namely the shelters and organizations already doing the work.

"Direct delivery has the potential for higher costs and would not allow the city to leverage the resources and existing expertise of community partners to meet shelter needs," it reads.

The review goes on to add that Windsor should explore opportunities for more family shelter beds and a dedicated facility, but notes funds "are currently not available to support" the investment in a building.

When asked why buy a hotel, rather than investing in the services already running shelters in the city, Teliszewsky said the city is already regularly paying to house families in hotels when shelter space runs out.

He also pointed to provincial funding that includes a grant program under which municipalities can buy a facility.

"The province made available funding and we didn't want to leave it on the table," he said.

"It provides the opportunity for the city to acquire a property, where in previous years we have been renting, so it relives an operating budget line item and will give us flexibility to implement some recommendations from the Emergency Shelter Review, which council had endorsed."

Long-term goal is permanent housing

Officials also said that just because the city is purchasing the site, does not mean it will be the one operating it.

Ron Dunn, executive director of the Downtown Mission, said Wednesday evening that he was just hearing about the plans to purchase a hotel, but described the move as "progressive."

"We need maybe smaller shelters. The hotel seems to fit that bill," he said.

"[The mayor] did state that he's going to work with existing shelters. There's only three of us, so I think it's great."

The Downtown Mission on Victoria Avenue is one of three shelters currently operating in the city. A review which went to council states ore services for women and young persons are needed in the community.
The Downtown Mission on Victoria Avenue is one of three shelters currently operating in the city. A review which went to council states ore services for women and young persons are needed in the community. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Bortolin said the need for services for the homeless community should be clear to anyone walking through downtown.

While shelters serve an immediate need and can offer a bed for a night, they're just a start.

"The long-term effort is permanent housing," he said. "The one cure for homelessness is housing"